Article | 6 min read

Why every support team needs a data analyst

Last updated March 21, 2016

Meet Sarah, Senior Data Analyst, on Zendesk’s Global Customer Advocacy team. She’s based in San Francisco and is, little-known fact, third-generation native San Franciscan. In other words, a rare thing.

Described as curious, committed, and passionate, it’s fair to say that Sarah enjoys learning new things. In between support jobs, she went back to school for graphic design and worked as a designer, bartender, in catering, and as a Lyft driver. Then, 15 months into her job as a Tier 2 advocate at Zendesk, she became the first official data analyst for the Global Customer Advocacy organization.

“Sarah cannot stop thinking about a problem until she’s able to manipulate the data and reveal the story hidden within,” her manager said. “Global Customer Advocacy is on a mission to build the best support experience. We’re using data to get us there, and Sarah is making it happen.”

Here she shares how she made the move from advocate to analyst, and clues us into the types of support stories data can help tell.

Name: Sarah Kay
Tenure at Zendesk: 2 years
Years in a support role: 6.5 years total, formerly at Oracle and Atlassian
Personal mantra: This is a pretty common saying, but I often remind myself, “This too shall pass.” Nothing is permanent and everything changes all the time. Even when you’re stressed out and things are rough, the next day, or week, or month will be different. It helps me avoid making rash decisions.
Fun facts about you? I recently learned to knit. I lived in South Africa for 3 years, which was a pretty cool experience and helped me learn a lot about myself. I also really like to do crossword puzzles over Sunday brunch.
As a native San Franciscan and former bartender, where should we go to drink? I love dive bars. I love The Mucky Duck in the inner Sunset, mostly because of the community, and because I used to work there. Even if I don’t go there for months, they always welcome me. It’s a bit like Cheers. Kilowatt is another I’d highly recommend. Their jukebox is pretty awesome.

Sarah Kay photo collage
When did you realize you wanted to be a data analyst?
It kind of found me. I used to do metrics and trend reporting when I worked at Oracle. At some point way back then, I thought, “Oh, Data Analyst. That would be kind of a cool job.” Then I went and did all these other things with my life. But when I came here, my team lead at the time was the product champion for our analytics platform and he started training me and giving me analytics projects to work on. Within the first three months of me being here, he announced on our company Yammer that I was the queen of Insights and that everyone should ask me questions.

I panicked a little because I was new, but it forced me to learn the product really well and I don’t really shy away from a challenge. I traveled to Madison to helped train and recruit more product champions, and when I moved into a team lead role, I just kept working on data tickets because I liked them and didn’t want to lose my data chops. I offered my assistance to other people in support ops to build reports and dashboards, and so it ended up feeling natural to move into the data analyst position when it opened up.

What skills does an advocate need to have to move into this type of role?
You need to have an attention to detail, and an ability to think about data in multiple dimensions—thinking about how one piece of data relates to another. There’s multiple ways to look at and filter data, and to process and explain data. A lot of times, data can lie. It’s just a number or a series of numbers, and you should be able to back it up and tell a story with it. You’ve got to segment it correctly and understand the different perspectives represented in your data.

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on so far, or will be focused on going forward?
I’ve looked at advocate productivity and customer satisfaction. As we rolled out our new live chat and voice products, we started looking at key metrics on a channel-by-channel basis.

I also led the charge to develop a process for reporting on our red alerts, which is any service incident that impacts a large number of our customers. We weren’t tracking the data in a single place so I manually put together a year’s worth of data from various sources and came up with a process to maintain the data and begin building reports.

Since the role is newer, a lot of what I’ve done has been defining responsibilities, educating people on data best practices, and teaching people to use our tools. I’ve performed some audits of our reports and metrics and uncovered some areas for improvement in our daily operations. Mostly I’ve been doing a lot of learning.

Right now I’m working on some longer-term projects centered around ticket deflection and smarter routing through automated ticket triage. I’m looking at ways we can use BIME, blending Zendesk support data with Google Analytics and product usage data to show our impact on other areas of the company and to see how our customers are using our products. One thing I am finding particularly interesting at the moment is how people use our Help Center. What articles are they viewing? Where are they getting stuck and submitting tickets? How can we improve their ability to self-serve? Mostly just looking for new ways to measure baselines so that when we implement new processes, we can determine whether they’re successful.

What do you find people don’t tend to know or understand about data analysis?
People ask for reports, and the funny part about it is that when you give someone a report that took you eight hours to build, they have no idea because it’s just a single number or a pretty line graph. They’re always surprised when you tell them how long it took. That’s the beauty of it.

Zendesk advocates are front and center with our customers and our product. This series highlights the people behind the tickets and their perspective on what makes great customer service.

See past posts from:
Abel Martin, on building great internal partnerships
Arthur Mori, on what everyone should know about Tier 1 support
Benjamin Towne, on constructive criticism and mentoring advocates
Rodney Lewis, on setting up an internal shadowing program